Some of our fabulous cast
for "The Vagina Monologues"
Pictured left to right: Tara, Demet, Yasemin, me,
Monique, Harika, and Kendra
One of my fellow cast members in DreamTree's production of "The Vagina Monologues," remarked at what an amazing feat it was for Donna M.E. Banks, an American and Kendra Tyre, a Canadian to move to Istanbul and within six months start up a theatre production company and put on Eve Ensler's play. These two ladies had known each other as teachers in Korea, and then discovered they were both living in Istanbul. "Why not create a VDay event?" they thought.
VDay is the movement to wake up the world to the gender-based violence women experience. It was started by American Eve Ensler.
It was just down the street from the entrance
of the Istanbul Hilton in Harbiye.
As I said in my last post, acting has not ever been one of my dreams. I was in this production because I believed in the cause. I walked away from the experience with new insight and respect for actors and actresses. For one thing, it takes a lot of time to learn dialogue. As the oldest cast member, I joked that 'act' stood for 'Alzheimer's Cognitive Testing.' It seemed odd to me to devote so much time to something I would use all of three times. At least if I was studying a school subject - say osmosis, or something, I could use it forever. I also had no idea the amount of time that actors need to devote to rehearsals. My goodness, it's like a part-time job to go to rehearsals every week.
But is this space not endearing?
It's like a little neighborhood clubhouse.
It held just under 100 seats.
As I was whining to a friend about how much more work it is to be in a play than I realized, he said, "yes, but you'll forget all that pain when you perform it." I was scared to death to act in this play, and as we prepared I felt wave after wave of vulnerability engulf me. My friends carried me through though, and lifted me up with joy and support as I got ready. When we put the tickets on sale, it took less than a week for them to sell out. The last few days before the play all of us in the cast were fielding calls from all kinds of people asking, "please just four more seats?"
Opening night was full of drama for the cast: one member was in the hospital hoping to get discharged by 6 p.m. for our 8:30 curtain time, another went through three or four babysitters before finding one that would commit and stick. The second night, the lights were bright and I flubbed a couple of my lines. I quickly found my way back but it was a bit unnerving. The third night, one cast member forgot to get her suitcase out of the taxi trunk with all the costumes inside. Luckily, the cabbie realized it and brought it around in time for the show. Donna and Kendra goodnaturedly rolled with all of it.
The power of art to transform and cause us to think and grow is incredible. During our rehearsals, I faced my own intolerance of the transgender character in the show, and realized I was repulsed by the ambiguity everytime I heard the monologue. I didn't want to be, but I was. I don't know anyone in that situation. I always have to think, "now, are these the people who dress in the other gender's clothes? Or the people who want sex-change surgery? Or people who have had sex-change surgery?" I can never keep it straight.
"Wow, in real life, people with that issue, are a walking violence target," I realized. If I was repulsed and was doing my best to be compassionate and still struggling, I could imagine there are plenty of people who don't even bother to struggle. I just sat with my own feelings and felt the discomfort of not understanding. The play taught me how damn hard it must be to be one of those people. May they find kindness out there in the world. May I not be indifferent to the hate crimes they experience.
I hope to post more pictures and information about how much money was raised for Turkish nonprofits, but I'll end here saying how amazingly proud I am of my friends. Their biggest accomplishment was to use art to create conversations about difficult subjects. Among the cast we had fascinating discussions about what our mothers and grandmothers had taught us about avoiding gender-based violence, we discussed what monologues we identified with and what ones we did not, we talked about what part of the female experience isn't represented. We were privleged to help create the same kind of conversations among our audiences. I felt wondrous community develop full of love and support among the English-language speakers of Istanbul around this play. It was a privlege to be a part of it - next time though - I'm signing up for the publicity team - anything but acting!
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